Two males, weary and bloody from battle, emerge from a white mist to commune with an outdated girl on the sting of a mirror-clear pond. Within the pond, the place she ought to have a single, darkish reflection, there are two. She (they?) have a message for one of many males, and although it sounds welcome, it’s deadly: “All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!”

That is how “The Tragedy of Macbeth” begins its thrilling descent into carnage and insanity.

That is how “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” opening in theaters on Christmas Day (and streaming on Apple TV on Jan. 14), begins its thrilling descent into carnage and insanity. The movie is directed by Joel Coen, who’s with out his brother and co-writer-director Ethan for the primary time of their almost 40-year profession collectively. The pair’s specialty is black comedy — ”The Large Lebowski,” “Fargo,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” — however alone, Joel has made one thing darker, much less arch and extra linear than his motion pictures as one of many Coen Brothers.

On the movie’s coronary heart is the marvelous Denzel Washington, who performs Macbeth as a kindly outdated veteran making ready to relaxation on his laurels after a profession devoted to King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson). Or so it appears at first. He and Girl Macbeth (an ideal Frances McDormand) have been plotting Duncan’s dying, and a complete historical past of their difficult relationship will be learn between Shakespeare’s strains of their chemistry. Macbeth is aware of that going by way of along with his spouse’s plot may push him over the sting, and so does she, and so they do it anyway. What follows is a sequence of bloody inevitabilities, however because the movie ticks down — typically actually, with a rhythmic knocking sound pervading the rating — Washington makes it not possible to look away. He’s the inverse of a Clint Eastwood character: not a curmudgeon with a coronary heart of gold, however a mild exterior concealing a coronary heart dried right down to a murderous husk.

The film’s last sword combat, between Macbeth and his nemesis, Macduff (Corey Hawkins), out to avenge the household Macbeth has murdered, is fought in a literal trench so slender the lads can solely transfer ahead or again. Future, and structure, require a duel to the dying, and the witch who predicts the battle royale (the unbelievable Kathryn Hunter, most likely greatest recognized amongst theater nerds for her work with the U.Okay. theater firm Complicité) taunts Macbeth with ambiguous ideas of his forthcoming demise. She, and we within the viewers, can see the hopeless equipment of Macbeth’s dying at work — even when Macbeth himself can’t.

Macbeth, Girl Macbeth and Macduff are on the middle of Coen’s distorted lens, and so they’re the least caricatured. Across the periphery, Coen has positioned the sort of cartoony bit gamers who sometimes make the Brothers’ motion pictures so memorable: Harry Melling as Malcolm; Stephen Root because the Porter (offering much-needed comedian reduction); and Alex Hassell because the conniving Ross. Coen has beefed up Ross’s position — a messenger and narrator within the unique Shakespeare, he’s now additionally a kind of grand vizier determine along with his personal concepts about who ought to sit down on the throne.

General it’s a outstanding film, filmed in black and white in starkly lit units that give Washington and McDormand dramatic blocks of sunshine to play with. The scenography evokes revolutionary Nineteenth-century scenographer Adolphe Appia, however with completely fashionable particular results and camerawork. We don’t see the seams or borders of the set dressing the best way we’d in an older movie with comparable influences. It produces a splendidly disorienting impact, as if Coen had shot his “Macbeth” on location on the planet of Appia’s half-remembered nightmares.

However the highest praise I pays “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is that I understood one in all my favourite performs higher after having seen it. I’ve all the time beloved “Macbeth”; it’s one of many few works of Shakespeare that stands a combating likelihood of being loved by youngsters, with its bloody battles, black magic and betrayals. Solely in Coen’s model, although, did I actually perceive the title character himself — how he arrives at his lifeless spouse’s facet, moaning, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps on this petty tempo from daily to the final syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the best way to dusty dying.” It’s onerous to reckon with this devastation on the web page after Macbeth so blithely kills his outdated buddy and chief.

In Coen’s model, when Macbeth kills Duncan, he wounds his personal conscience fatally. Insanity infects that wound, till he’s screaming weird insults (“thou cream-faced loon!”) from the throne. It’s all of the extra jarring when he begins to hallucinate the witches who foretold his doom. Are they a dream? The reply, it appears, doesn’t a lot matter. Solely motion issues, for Macbeth. Motion, and its terrible, unavoidable penalties.